22 December 2013


I'm making pimento cheese tonight and realized that there was an error on my recipe.  The amount of cheese should be 1/2 lb. (to make two cups shredded) instead of one pound. 

That's all.

And have a Merry Christmas!

11 December 2013

Winter S.O.S!

Taco Soup earlier in the summer: if only we had fresh cilantro now!

Come this time of year, I seriously need some help and inspiration in the kitchen.  The only green things around are collecting ice in the freezer and the only foods I really want to make involve lots of butter, sugar, and oven time.  

A typical afternoon at 3:00 pm has me thinking:  Dinner in two hours.  What to make?  What to make?  And all I can think of are various soups.  The same ones we had last week (for four or five meals in a row).  It's the winter kitchen blues.  *sigh*

So, I'll share my list if you'll share yours.  Or I'll just share my list and hope you reciprocate.  Because it's the season for giving, right?  Both of us.  Right?

Top Go-To Meals in Clymerland
(aka: what I'm getting really bored of making right about now)

1. Chili and Cornbread (or rice)
2. Corn Chowder
3. Rice and Beans (okay, there's a non-soup!)
4. Irish Stew
5. Venison-Vegetable Soup (or just vegetable soup)
6. Sloppy Joe with Succotash
7. Peanut Stew with Rice

It's now 3:20 pm--shall it be Corn Chowder or Rice and Beans?

26 November 2013

Egg Salad Cheat

No, this is not "mock" egg salad (I'm generally afraid of a recipe that uses that term).  It uses real eggs, but cooks them in a different way if you don't feel like hard boiling and peeling them or just don't have the time.  And no one will know the difference.  *smile* 

So what's the cheat?  Poaching.  

Simmer some water in a skillet, crack the eggs into it, cover the pan, and gently steam until you can tell (with a gentle prod) that the yolks are cooked.  This takes about five minutes.  Slip the eggs onto a plate and cool in the fridge or freezer if you want to use them immediately.  NO PEELING NECESSARY!  Just chop the eggs on a cutting board and make your salad.  Easy, wasn't it?

Peanut Butter Dip

Here's a quick, easy recipe for peanut butter dip that is not too sweet and tastes great with apples.  A great any-time-of-day snack.  I think it could also be a great spread in a sandwich--the yogurt "lightens" the peanut butter and makes it more spreadable.  I use Zimmerman's Natural peanut butter which has no sugar and just a little salt.

 Peanut Butter Dip

1/2 cup plain (or vanilla) yogurt
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 TBSP sugar (or less if using sweetened yogurt or peanut butter)
splash of vanilla
pinch cinnamon

Whip ingredients together in a bowl until incorporated and fluffy.  Dip!

21 October 2013

Pimento Cheese

As is so typical of my food saga stories, this one began with a craving, continued months later with a disgruntled me complaining of the mass-produced, store-bought version prompting a lengthy internet search for recipes followed by lots of testing, and ending--FINALLY--with a recipe I love and can call my own.  Of course, this all happened about a year ago too.  *smile*

Pimento cheese.  I honestly didn't know it was such a nostalgic southern thing until I started reading people's stories that went along with their recipes.  Memories of their grandmothers making dainty "pimenta cheese" sandwiches on white bread with the crusts cut off.  Hey now.  We'll have none of that here.  I wanted a good, stiff pimento cheese (not the kind dripping with mayo!) that could talk back to a crust and leave you wanting more no matter what side of the Mason-Dixon line you grew up in.

And here it is folks.  Oh, just a note about the peppers.  I know this is called pimento cheese, but I kinda cheated and used plain ol' red bell pepper.  Even at $1 a piece, it beats paying for a tiny jar of pimentos, and I thought it tasted just as good.  I made this with fresh, raw peppers as well as roasted ones.  It was delicious both ways. 

Pimento Cheese (and cheese ball--read to the end!)

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (may use 1/2 Monterrey Jack) about 1 lb.  1/2 lb. total

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 TBSP minced onion
6 TBSP mayonnaise
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped (usually 1/2 a pepper)

Place everything except 1/2 of the shredded cheese and the bell pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth.  Add the remaining cheese and red bell pepper and pulse until incorporated.  (I like my pepper pieces and some of the cheese to remain intact rather than  blended into one orange mess--see picture below)  Alternatively, place all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together until they're thoroughly mixed!  Tastes better after a day or two in the fridge.  If it lasts that long.   It will stiffen up in the fridge (which makes it a great pretzel dip!) so get it out to warm a bit if you want to spread it for sandwiches.  Other ways to eat it: as a veggie dip, on a burger, in a grilled cheese sandwich, tossed with mac n' cheese, or just straight off your tasting finger!

 the texture I like

size of onion mince vs. chopped pepper

To make this into a cheese ball, just add less mayonnaise (I used 4 TBSP instead of 6) and form it into a ball after it has been refrigerated.  The one below I rolled in a mixture of chopped parsley and toasted sliced almonds.  Use a small knife or cheese spreader to serve this.

20 October 2013

Hummus, My Way

As if we all needed another recipe for hummus.  But after so many times of  randomly throwing hummus together and getting such varied results I finally started keeping track of what I did and got the recipe down the way I like it.  By the way, I costed this at about $1.65, most of that being the chickpeas.  If you cooked your own from dried beans, it would be even less!

Anita's Hummus
(servings:  ummmm . . . depends on the day!)

 1 16-oz. can chickpeas (1 1/2 cups), drained with juice reserved
1 clove garlic
2 TBSP tahini
2-4 TBSP lemon juice (towards the higher end if using fresh lemon)
1/2 tsp salt
pinch of cumin, pinch of black pepper
1 TBSP reserved liquid from chickpeas


Place all ingredients except for the reserved liquid into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the standard chopping blade and whiz it smooth.  This is one food I can't seems to make the way I like it except in a food processor. With blenders, I seem to have to add too much liquid to get the texture I really want.  In the food processor I pulse and scrape, pulse and scrape a few times, and then let it whiz for quite a while until it is very smooth.  If you add too much liquid early on, the chickpeas will always stay a little lumpy/grainy, which is fine if you like that texture.  I like mine creamy, so I add the extra liquid (usually about one TBSP as written) at the end just to thin it a little.  You could also add olive oil to loosen it up if you like.  I like my hummus creamy and pretty thick, so that it is easy to scoop up on a pretzel.

Taste and correct the seasonings as you like it.  I like a bright lemon flavor, which is why my recipe has such a wide range of acceptable amounts.  Since it's cheaper and easier to always have on hand, I often use the bottled juice (forgive me!) which seems to take less to get the brightness I like.  Also, not all tahini is created equal.  I start with 2 TBSP and then add more if I have a mild tahini.

Speaking of tahini, it is the reason I costed my recipe.  It can be pretty pricey but if you tend to use it just for hummus, it will last a long time and the cost per batch isn't too bad (about 50 cents).  

I like to serve our hummus swirled about with olive oil and za'atar (a Mediterranean blend of herbs, salt, and toasted sesame seeds--I found a great source at Ten Thousand Villages in downtown H'burg) and scooped up with mini-pretzles (since Gibbles has been sold my new favorite is Utz Wheels) or flat bread.  YUM! 

p.s. and if you've figured out how to make thick, creamy hummus in a blender, let me know!

25 September 2013

Pizza/Pasta Sauce

I've gotta have a record of how I made sauce this year; otherwise, come next September I'm bound to go searching through my recipe binder NOT being able to find the chicken scratch I wrote down and NOT remembering what I want to do differently or the same.

Whether or not it was written down, I'm not sure I'll be able to replicate the eagerness of my little helper.  Why is it that once kids master the skills for washing dishes/helping can/pulling weeds/______________(fill in this blank with any other mundane household chore you are looking forward to your kids doing) they no longer have the desire to help do these things? 

So, we made sauce (Atticus keeps calling it "salsa") this year.  Early September.  I had mostly paste tomatoes to work with which was great!  And here's what we did:

20 lb. paste tomatoes, washed and quartered
2 medium onions, quartered
6 cloves garlic, smashed
4 green peppers, seeded and cut in large chunks

Simmer tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers together in large saucepans until vegetables are soft (about 1/2 hour).  I also broiled the onions and garlic in a little oil first, but don't know as I'd got to the trouble again.  Strain this mixture and run though food mill.  By first straining it, I removed 3 quarts of juice and made my base thicker.  

My eager helper loved to watch the curls of tomato, onion, and pepper peels come out the end of the food mill.  He noted that it looked like "poop!".  Yep, it really does.

Once the tomato mixture is all through the food mill (and, like the thrifty person you are, you've also run the "poops" through another time or two to get it ALL out), add the following:

1/2 cup sugar
3 TBSP salt
3 TBSP Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves

Simmer this on the stove until it thickens.  I simmered it about 90 minutes before removing the bay leaves and deciding to add:

1/4 cup cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
Stir sauce while adding cornstarch to avoid lumps (I picked some out while ladling the sauce into jars).  

At this point I really loved the flavor of the sauce and thought it had a good consistency.  Then I had to go ahead and add some sauteed peppers, onions, and garlic to make it chunky.  Not sure I would do this again, but I haven't used it yet on pizza, so I'll give myself some time (maybe about a year?) to think about that.
I used:

2 onions, diced
6-7 peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
little bit of olive oil

Then I stirred in:

______ cup chopped fresh basil

Yes, that is what I wrote down.  Maybe about a cup?  I simmered the sauce another 10-15 minutes before ladling it into clean pint jars and processing it in a boiling water bath.  I added 1/4 tsp of lemon juice into each jar too since I was paranoid about it not being acidic enough with the addition of all those extra veggies.  This yielded exactly 9 pints which should make 18 pizzas!

Any advice, tips, or killer recipes to share?  I'm still a novice at this and by no means have I settled on this as my recipe yet.

Happy canning!

27 August 2013

Fresh Peach Pie

I spent a little time earlier in August worrying about whether I would be able to get peaches this year, so when I had a chance to get some (without waking at an ungodly hour, driving 30 minutes to get in line at the orchard and wait half the day--with two little kids, yeah right!) I bought a LOT!  We ended up canning and freezing about 52 quarts of peaches after we'd eaten some fresh and made a cobbler and a few pies.

Aren't they pretty . . . ?

My sister-in-law introduced me to this pie recipe the week before I got my peaches, and I loved it!  It uses fresh peach slices held together with a gelatin/cornstarch/water mixture and chilled rather than cooked.  I used a mix-in-the-pan pie crust (like this one) to keep things simple.  The crust is a bit crumblier than rolled pastry, but it is rich and delicious and goes nice with the fresh fruit.

The recipe I used for the filling (and the crust too) was from my trusty Esther Shank "Mennonite Country-Style Recipes" cookbook (simply referred to as "Esther Shank" by myself and others) and was quite similar to the one you'll find here.  I used only a 1/2 cup of sugar and omitted the corn syrup since I don't tend to keep that on hand.  I loved this pie and only wish I still had fresh peaches on hand to make some more.  My post-partum waistline can probably do without, though.  =) 

08 August 2013

Thai Squash

I came across this recipe for Thai squash some time ago and have enjoyed making it a lot recently.  It's fast, flavorful, and simple to put together once your squash or pumpkin is prepared.  I've been using butternut squash (clearing out the last of last year's crop!).

Here's the how-to:

Peel, seed, and slice two cups-worth of squash (we will understand from here on out that "squash" means "squash or pumpkin") into roughly domino-sized pieces.  See, I always want to make a bit more . . .

locate 30 peppercorns (trust me!) and 2 cloves of garlic

crush them!

Heat up one tablespoon of oil in a wok or skillet and add the garlic/peppercorn mixture.  Cook until the garlic begins to brown.  Add squash and one cup of water.  Stir and cook until squash is just soft (5-10 minutes).  When there is still a little water left add 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (trust me!) and one teaspoon of sugar.  Let sit a few minutes until ready to eat.  Serve with rice or on its own as a side dish.  We've eaten it a few times alongside sticky rice and laab.

If you don't have fish sauce in your pantry, you could try substituting soy sauce (I have not tried this) or just go buy the bottle of fish sauce and make more Asian food!  Besides using fish sauce in Thai and Vietnamese recipes I also add it to soups for a bit of saltiness and depth of flavor (like bouillon).

Pie Again

I posted what has become my favorite rhubarb pie recipe last summer when I first made it with rhubarb and blueberries.  This year I tried it with frozen--thawed--sliced strawberries, and it turned out fantastic again!  And pretty.

If you've got rhubarb, you really should try this simply delicious recipe!  And don't be afraid to use frozen rhubarb either--I dumped mine straight out of the freezer bag into the pie crust before it went in the oven and the texture was perfect.

01 June 2013

Baby Month (and a recipe link)

So it's June 1st, and I didn't make any posts for the entire month of May.  I guess I was a little busy having a baby and all.  I actually did a lot of cooking in March and April to stock up the freezer with enough meals to hopefully not have to cook for a month after giving birth.  With eight days to go towards that goal and sandwich supplies on hand it looks like I just might squeak by . . .

But I do have a delicious link for you.  Back in the first week of May when I was waiting around for this baby to be born (due April 28), I started getting tricksy.  I tried pretty much every trick in the book to convince baby to be born including this eggplant parmigiana recipe.  Looks gross, tastes AWESOME, did not produce a baby within 48 hours.  But it was still yummy.  I made a 1/2 recipe which was a good thing, as this is RICH in cheese and we had enough for about three meals (two adults, one toddler).  It was labor-intensive (har, har) so I'm not sure I'd make it again unless I had some serious baby-sitting or it was a weekend.  But it was yummy.  Did I mention that already?

The only things I changed were to use cottage cheese instead of ricotta (we prefer the texture) and used basil pesto in the sauce since I had no access to fresh basil.  I also made my own breadcrumbs from some stale bread and Italian seasoning and used that parmesan/romano cheese blend in the shaker bottle *gasp!* instead of the fresh stuff.  But it was still yummy.

See, looks gross (I think I baked it a little too long . . .) 

So I'll end on a sweeter, prettier note.  Baby Girl.  Born 8 days after the eggplant parmigiana.  We love her a LOT!

08 April 2013

Bitty Cinnamon Rolls

The last two times I made bread, I snagged a bit of the dough to make some sweet rolls.  The first attempt was a cream cheese/strawberry mess of a roll that was too gooey to even cut into individual pieces.  I ended up baking the whole log in a round with a slashed top.  It came out of the oven looking pretty good, but caved in as it cooled into a very moist mess.  Yum.  We ate most of it, and I learned that my bread dough would definitely make a good sweet roll base.  As long as I used a drier filling.

Next up, plain old cinnamon-sugar rolls.  I used about a fourth of my dough recipe to make a pie tin's worth of rolls, shaping the rest of the dough into three small round loaves.  One thing I've been doing lately that seems to result in a moister, sweeter dough is to dump my whole grains (oats, whole wheat flour, flax, etc.) in with all the wet ingredients and letting that sit for awhile--30 minutes to a few hours as I have time/need of.  I think this lets those grains soak up more liquid before adding enough white flour to make the dough hold its shape.  If I would add all the flours at the same time, I would end up with a dough that seems like the right consistency but would dry out some as the whole grains continued to soak up moisture.  Make sense?

Anyhow.  Itty bitty cinnamon rolls.  

I rolled my bit of dough out pretty thin, spread with butter, sugar, and cinnamon, and then sliced them about 3-4 inches across after they were rolled up.  These were tall, skinny, and just funny looking in my pan, so I squashed them down with my hand until they just touched each other at the edges.  

Let rise until double and bake for about 15 minutes at 350F.  I had some leftover icing from another project that I slathered over the top when they had cooled some.  So yummy when they were still a little warm.  And good the next two days too. 

28 March 2013

Buttery Sauteed Cabbage

I made this cabbage (with spinach) to go along with my St. Patrick's Day meal of Irish stew and soda bread (see previous post).  I really liked how it turned out and thought it complemented the stew nicely.  Plus, it was a cinch to throw together.  And it was buttery.

Buttery Cabbage

1/2 head cabbage, thinly knife-shredded
few cups spinach, washed and roughly chopped (optional)
2 - 3 TBSP butter
generous pinch ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

In a hot skillet, steam cabbage in a little water--covered--until tender (about 10 minutes).  Remove lid, add spices and butter and spinach if using.  Cover again and let sit a few minutes for butter to melt and spinach to wilt.  Stir, taste, and add additional salt and pepper if desired.  That's it!  Serve in a pretty bowl.

P.S.  My taste-tester (the adult one) really enjoyed this too!

Irish Stew

I have typically made up my own Irish stew version for St. Patrick's Day, but this year I decided to follow a recipe from my bought-in-Ireland Irish cookbook (brilliant idea, right?).  And I mostly stuck to it.  What I love about this recipe is that it is so simple and you actually end up with a stew--thick, rich gravy in the bottom of the pan that is absolutely wonderful to mop up with fresh soda bread.  YUM!

[[Funny/ironic side story about the meat used in my Irish stews.  It's venison, not lamb or beef which would be more traditional.  One year when we celebrated St. Patrick's Day with our small group from church we read the St. Patrick's Breastplate prayer as a prelude to our meal together.  One story goes that the prayer was chanted for protection against druids who were laying in ambush for Patrick and his followers.  Legend has it that God answered this prayer by making Patrick and Co. appear as deer to the druids and they were able to pass by unharmed.

Yep.  Then after we read the prayer we ate Irish stew with venison.]]

Anyhow, this year I followed an actual Irish recipe (except I still used venison of course!).  You basically brown your meat in some butter or oil then layer onions and carrots on top followed by thickly-sliced potatoes.  Add turnips if you like.  Pour broth over the whole and stew for two hours on the stove or in the oven. 

Making this in my cast-iron skillet meant it was a one pot deal.  Nice!  I'll go ahead and post a recipe since I made a few (just a few!) changes.  I used less meat and added some flour when it was browned to make sure I had a nice, thick gravy in the bottom of the pan.  I also pre-sauteed the onions the second time I made this which I thought added a nice depth of flavor.

Traditional Irish Stew
(adapted from "The Irish Heritage Cookbook" by Margaret M. Johnson)

1 lb. lamb, beef or venison cut in about 1-inch chunks
2 - 4 carrots thickly sliced (I like the diagonal look)
2 onions, sliced 
2 - 3 large baking potatoes, peeled, halved, and thickly sliced
Thyme, salt, and pepper to season
1 cup water or broth
Butter (as much as you need!)
2 - 3 TBSP flour

My method:  Pre-heat oven to 300F.  If you want to caramelize (or saute until lightly golden) your onions, do this first in a few TBSP of butter.  Remove from the skillet when they are done to your likeness and add the meat into the same skillet.  Add more butter if necessary.  Sizzle and stir until browned and add the flour.  Work the flour into the meat and bit and remove from heat.  Toss in a bit of your chopped or dried thyme.  Layer on the onions and carrots (and turnips if using) and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few tsp chopped, fresh thyme.  Spread Potatoes on top and sprinkle again with salt, pepper, and thyme.  Pour your water or broth over all.  I used some vegetable bouillon broth with a generous splash of balsamic vinegar in it for a little depth (I think a nice, dark beer would be fantastic in place of the broth!).  Cover, and return to low heat for two hours.  Or, do as I did and bake it in the oven for the same amount of time.  Check it after an hour or so to see if it needs any more liquid.  The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups, but I found just one cup to be satisfactory.  When the potatoes and carrots are cooked to your likeness and the meat is tender, uncover the stew and brown the potatoes under the broiler.  Garnish with fresh parsley or thyme.  Serve it up soon with thick slices of fresh soda bread--baked along with or right after the stew!  I also served mine with some delicious cabbage/spinach saute ("recipe" to follow in another post).  My mouth is actually watering as I write this.  And we've got more venison chunks in the freezer, so there's no reason not to make it again soon.  Wonderful recipe for the winter repertoire!

02 March 2013

I "heart" Valentine's Day

just because it's another excuse to make themed shaped cookies! 

My goal was to make a heart cutout cookie in pretty pink without using any food coloring (or buying super-expensive food-based colorings).  I found this recipe which called for using strawberries in the dough for color and flavor.  The picture was so pretty!

Well, that optional "dot" of food coloring must have made a huge difference because my cookies came out kind of purply-grey rather than a nice perky pink.  Extra strawberries to the rescue!  I mixed my leftover puree into some icing, and got this pretty soft pink color which I thought looked nice with the chocolate frosting accents.  

Flavor: could'a been better.  Another time I think I'd make a basic shortbread cutout cookie with the same icing combinations as I did here.  I wasn't a big fan of the itty bitty seeds in the cookies, though I could've strained them out.

07 February 2013

Three Kings

Do you get stressed out over the winter holidays?  Does Christmas seem to sneak up on you too fast, and you find you just can't get all the things done that you wanted to before it arrives?  My friends, I have a solution:  Three Kings' Day.  Apparently we like to borrow traditions around here.  This one is from Latin America and some parts of Europe.  The celebration takes place on January 6 and commemorates the arrival of the wise people seeking the Christ child in Bethlehem.  

In a way, you're just stretching out the holiday season, so it might seem like more stress to add another one.  But believe me, it is SOOO relaxing to celebrate a holiday that no one around you knows about or pressures you to observe in any particular way!  We choose to give our gifts to each other on Three Kings' Day because it just seems to make more sense to connect the gift giving with those wise people.  Plus, this way we can enjoy the Christmas celebrations with our extended families without having to squeeze our own family time in sometime, somewhere, somehow.  We have our own Christmas season traditions that make the time special for us without the presents.  

Since we've borrowed Three Kings' Day from another culture (and some cool families we know), we don't try to be all authentic with it or anything (in fact, we celebrated a week late this year on January 13--who cares?!?  it's just for us!) but this year I did look up some traditional foods for the holiday and decided to make a "rosca de reyes"--Three Kings' Bread. 

I won't tell you how many pictures I took trying to make this look more appealing.  That would be embarrassing and seem contrary to the nature of this blog (which my husband is always accusing of not being "uncensored" enough in that I don't post every single dish I ever make).  But for the record, I think it would have looked better if I had taken some sort of icing application class or just not put any of those Princess-Leia's-hair-like loops of icing on it.  YET, the added sweetness was a definite bonus (I flavored the plain icing with cinnamon!), so I'll try not to be too vain about it. I also would forgo the orange slices which I put on along with the colored sugar for some festive flair.  It just meant that the bread was soggy underneath and not slathered with yummy hair-like loops of icing.

The bread is eggy, lightly sweet, and lightly spiced with cinnamon and orange zest.  I pretty much followed this recipe.  Which is pretty much the exact same thing as the Easter bread I made last year (just switch out the orange zest for lemon zest and swap the baby Jesus for an egg!  viola!).  We didn't really put in a baby Jesus figurine since we don't celebrate Candlemas on February 2 (whoever bites into the figurine treats everyone to tamales at Candlemas apparently).  

So you see, we pretty much do our own thing, incorporating bits and pieces of the tradition that we like.  We took the bread over to my in-laws' that evening and "caroled" for them ("We Three Kings", of course!) before sharing the bread and hot chocolate together.  That in itself was fun enough to make this a true tradition for our family by doing it again next year.  Maybe we'll even hit the right day!